Feeling Familiar in the Unfamiliar by Cara Williamson

Leaving home after winter break for my second semester abroad, I felt strange. Not in the same way I felt when leaving first semester to go to Buenos Aires (sad to say goodbye to home for five months, nervous to move to a new country), but rather, the opposite. Even with all the new adjustments of moving in, figuring out my new university, and finding my way around the city, I still felt an absence of those feelings I had felt in July. Maybe I did not feel the shock because Madrid is more “western”, or because I have my own apartment rather than a homestay, or because the majority of my classes are in English rather than Spanish. However, when I spoke with other Tulane exchange students I realized that this was probably not the case. Many of the students shared with me the feelings of discomfort I had felt arriving in Buenos Aires, from complaints about the differences in food to the feeling of isolation from hearing Spanish everywhere you go.

When I first left for Tulane my freshmen year, I cried on the plane, scared to leave my family and friends behind to move to a place where I knew no one. Then college began, and from the rush of making new friends and sharing new experiences I was too busy to feel sad about being far away from home. Of course, some of these new experiences were challenging, such as adjusting to the new academic workload, and at times I would feel homesick. When I went home for break, however, I realized how much I had become accustomed to life at Tulane, and I could not wait to go back again. Studying abroad, to me, is a magnified version of that. Once again, I had to adjust to a completely unfamiliar environment, while also adjusting to a different culture and learning to speak a new language. This change, especially practicing my Spanish with native speakers, was initially very difficult and something I was self conscious of. My program required all of my classes to be in Spanish, and for me to communicate exclusively with my homestay in Spanish. By the end of the semester, however, I had grown from these experiences and learned a lot about myself.  Not only had I vastly improved my ability to comprehend and communicate in Spanish, but I also realized how capable I was of adapting to whatever new challenge or circumstance presented itself to me. Now the feeling of unfamiliarity had just become familiar to me, and in Spain I am seeking out new ways to challenge myself. In fact, today I decided to replace my Spanish grammar class with a political theory class in Spanish. The class requires presentations and debates on political philosophers, and I am the only foreign exchange student in a class of Spaniards, so we shall see how it goes!


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